The Magic of Believing

Claude Bristol was a hard-headed journalist for several years, including stints as a police reporter and as church editor of a large city newspaper. In this post he met people from every denomination and sect, and later read hundreds of books on psychology, religion, science, metaphysics and ancient magic.

Gradually, Bristol began to see the 'golden thread' which runs through all religions and esoteric teachings; that belief itself has amazing powers. Having spent years thinking about the power of thought, he had assumed others knew something about it too. He was wrong. Strangely, he found that most people go through life without realising the effect that strong belief can have on reaching their goals - they leave their desires vague and so they get vague outcomes.

The three most powerful points I took from the book were;

  1. Belief creates its verification in fact. The Biblical Job said: 'What I feared most had come upon me

  2. Virtually anything can be yours, and you can be anything, if you are able to develop a 'knowing' about it that you don't ever need to question. Your belief about yourself and your place in the world is arguably the major determinant of success.

  3. The subconscious can be a faithful servant which renews, guides and inspires, but to get the most from it requires greater respect for and faith in what it can do

When Bristol was a soldier in World War One, there was a period in which he had no pay and couldn't even afford cigarettes. He made up his mind that when he got back to civilian life "he would have a lot of money". In his mind this was a decision, not a wish. Barely a day had passed after his arrival back home when he was contacted by a banker who had seen a story on him in the local newspaper.

He was offered a job, and though he started on a small salary, he constantly kept before him 'a mental picture of wealth'. In quiet moments or while on the telephone, he doodled '$$$' signs on bits of paper that crossed his desk. This definiteness of belief, he suggests, more than anything else paved the way for a highly successful career in investment banking and business. Bristol had learned the truth of philosopher William James' statement that "Belief creates its verification in fact". Just as fearful thoughts set you up to experience the situation you can't stop thinking about (the Biblical Job said: 'What I feared most had come upon me'), optimistic thoughts and expecting the best inevitably form favourable circumstances.

Belief and destiny.

Napoleon was given a star sapphire when he was a boy, accompanied by the prophecy that it would bring him good fortune and make him Emperor of France. Napoleon accepted this as fact, and therefore to him at least, his rise was inevitable. Bristol tells the intriguing story of Opal Whiteley, the daughter of an Oregon logger, who believed herself to be the daughter of Henri d'Orleans, a Bourbon with a claim to be King of France. There was a diary purportedly written by her describing her royal parents, although most believed it to be a hoax.

Nevertheless, when Opal was in her twenties she was spotted in India, being pulled along regally in a carriage belonging to the Maharaja of Udaipur; it turned out she was living in the royal household. An Oregon newspaper man who had known Opal in her childhood remarked: "It was uncanny, almost supernatural, the manner in which circumstances suited themselves to her plans." This brings us to the book's strongest message: that virtually anything can be yours, and you can be anything, if you are able to develop a 'knowing' about it that you don't ever need to question. Of Napoleon and Alexander the Great, Bristol says, "They became supermen because they had supernormal beliefs". Your belief about yourself and your place in the world is arguably the major determinant of success.

The subconscious servant.

If you can understand the relationship between the conscious and the subconscious minds, Bristol says, you will get to the core of belief power. The subconscious constantly works to express our deepest beliefs and desires. It is a faithful servant which renews, guides and inspires, but to get the most from it requires greater respect for and faith in what it can do. Because the subconscious operates in terms of imagery, it is vital that we feed it mental pictures of what we desire. It can then go to work in 'living up to' the image placed before it, by giving us intuitions about what to do, where to go, who to meet. Somehow, the subconscious is connected to all other minds, and through the law of radiation and attraction it can attract events and people to you that will assist in making your dreams reality. However, it will only find ways to make the image real if that image is clear and convincing - hence the importance of the mental pictures of success you feed it. The force of belief cannot really work in our favour until the belief becomes literally part of us, settled in the subconscious mind as a fact.

Projecting thought and belief.

Bristol notes that all the great electrical scientists - Edison, Steinmetz, Tesla, Marconi - were interested in telepathy. It was not ridiculous to them that thoughts could move through the air, that thoughts alone could affect things if, like a good radio signal, they were strong and clear. Bristol borrows from New Thought principles to suggest that there is intelligence in everything that exists in the universe and that we are all linked up by a kind of universal mind; Jung had a similar idea with his 'collective unconscious'. The force of your belief represents a transmitter to the universe that enters the minds of other people and even inanimate objects.

The more powerful your 'broadcast', the more likely that the world will pick it up and react accordingly. It was not impossible, said the astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington, that the physical laws of the universe could be made subject to human thought, and modern quantum physics does not rule it out either. Bristol's explanation is that a person with a strong belief will exist at a certain vibration that seeks its like in the form of matter. Thus the startling conclusion: you do not achieve deep felt goals by action alone, but are helped along depending on the quality and intensity of the belief that they will be achieved.

The power of suggestion.

Charms, talismans, good-luck pieces of any kind, alone do not bring good fortune, Bristol says, it is the belief in their efficacy that is powerful. Why do people chant, repeat affirmations, bang drums or count beads? Repetition is another way to implant a suggestion into our minds, the 'white magic' which enables us to turn a wish into an expectation.

By ritualising it, by giving it structure, the idea changes from being a mere wish to being imminent reality. We give thanks for what is or is about to be. The 'terrific force of thought repetition', Bristol says, first overcomes reason by acting on our emotions and then penetrates into the subconscious where it is only a matter of time before the thought is enacted. This, of course, is the principle behind successful advertising and propaganda. Bristol includes a warning about misuse of the mental technology associated with strong belief and suggestion: it is a power to be used constructively, not to achieve dominance. His book is dedicated to 'independent thinkers of all times' who wish to use belief for creative, life-affirming ends. He talks much of the power of belief to physically heal, for instance.


What I took from it.

The Magic of Believing is rambling and its references are dated; you may find yourself saying 'get to the point'. Some readers will also be turned off by the unscientific nature of the book, yet the strange thing about it is that it can reveal more to you on second, third or fourth readings. Bristol knew, after all, that ancient esoteric writings were often purposely opaque to shield their secrets from the uninitiated or those who might abuse them. You may not love reading this book, but just having it around could serve as a valuable reminder of the power of belief. I, for one, loved it. It may also be difficult to stomach some of this 'mind stuff' as the author calls it. He himself was sceptical, but then realised that we all summon the magic of believing when we desperately want something to come into being. The show pianist Liberace was said to have turned his life around after reading The Magic of Believing.

In a chapter on 'Women and the science of belief', Bristol evokes the names of Marie Curie, Mary Baker Eddy (founder of Christian Science), Florence Nightingale, Harriet Beecher Stow (author of Uncle Tom's Cabin) and actress Angela Lansbury as examples of people who drew upon the power of believing to achieve great things. Lansbury told an interviewer, "[W]hen you've learned how to draw on your subconscious powers, there's really no limit to what you can accomplish". The mental powers of these women were tremendous, yet we can develop their same 'belief intelligence' for our own lives.

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